Ask anyone with a 9-5 job what their lunch break looks like and the response will likely be something along the lines of, “tight deadlines,” “too many meetings,” or “what’s a lunch break?” And while these are valid reasons not to go out of the way for a midday meal, you can only have so many three-day-old leftovers before your boss’ head turns into a meatball sub during the afternoon meeting. When you get to that point, try these spots.
You probably know Old Major, but you might not know it’s best used for weekday lunches (from 11am-3pm), when the patio and bar areas transform into Royal Rooster. The semi-hidden Lower Highlands spot is still fairly under the radar, and the burger is our favorite in the city. The menu is pretty small, and the other six options are all chicken sandwiches (also great), so come here if you have a long-ish break and don’t mind being in a slight food coma the rest of the day.
Ohana Island Kitchen Ohana started as a take-out window and picnic table operation, but after people started going crazy for the poke bowls and other Hawaiian food, it moved to a brick and mortar space in LoHi. It’s still small, but works for a healthy-ish solo meal or a place to meet with a group. For something different (and not that healthy-ish), get the spam musabi - a nori, spam, and rice wrap that’s ideal for a takeout situation.
River North might be one of the trendiest neighborhoods, but the lack of parking makes it pretty inaccessible. However, if you work in the area, a quick walk to Central Market will be rewarded with plenty of worthwhile lunch options. Imagine your middle school cafeteria, but instead of soggy fries and fluorescent lighting there’s a butcher, oysters, a full bar, and a cool warehouse feel. We’re big fans of the ceviches at Silva’s, but if you’re not in a hurry, get some meats and cheeses at Culture and eat them on the patio.
Sometimes you need a few fatty pork buns at 11:30am, and that’s where Bones comes in. Off the beaten path in the Governors Park, it has a really nice patio and menu with things like braised pork udon that make your old chicken salad sandwich sound even less appealing. Come here solo, or with a coworker you know well enough to show your less than respectable slurping face to.
This out-of-the-way coffee and sandwich cafe in Northwest is the perfect place for escaping your co-workers and spending some quality time with a hot cuban sandwich. Pair it with the cortadito, get some sun on the patio out front, and pretend you don’t have to go back to your cubicle.
Anything with the people from Frasca’s fingerprints on it gets us excited, and Pizzeria Locale is no exception. They do Neapolitan pizzas, and the fresh dough and excellent toppings make them a serious contender for best thin crust in town. Plus, they come out in under five minutes, so you’ll be able to stuff your face and make it back for your 1pm meeting. Even better - have your meeting there. All the locations (especially Highland Square) are big and surprisingly quiet, which make them a good place for a working lunch.
Also in Highland Square, this is a great sandwich shop to hit when you want something really filling - and you also don’t want to bring it back to the office. The menu has some soups and salads, but you want to focus on the giant Italian sandwiches. Grab a seat on the patio with The Frankie and settle in. You’re going to want to be with your sandwich alone.
The Masterpiece LoHi is our favorite grab-and-go sandwich stop in the city. The location can’t be beat, and we love every sandwich on the menu. They do a good job of making the classics a little more interesting - like the ham and cheese that comes on a thyme baguette with some crunch to it. The veggie is also the best in town. You could eat there, but we like walking over to Confluence Park for some outdoor time.
Brider is our favorite upscale fast-casual spot for lunch in the city. There are fresh rotisserie chickens right behind the checkout counter, sweet potato and avocado salads, porchetta and kimchi sandwiches, rotating pizza options, and freshly baked pastries. The only downside is that the parking situation isn’t great, so plan accordingly.
When Carbone's closed, we were all a bit heart-broken. Thankfully, they’re back and running the shop out of the new Monkey Barrel bar location in Sunnyside. The Italian bodega vibe has been switched out for old school band posters, but the menu is the same. The meatball and the Italian sausage subs are our favorites, and you can play Mario Kart in the back booths while you wait for them to come out.
Vital Root is another trendy fast-casual spot from the folks at Root Down and Linger, except one with a mostly vegetarian and vegan menu. But before you write it off for that alone, know that the food here is actually really good (and not just for people who don't eat meat), like the banh mi tacos and cauliflower ceviche that are regulars in our lunch rotation. It’s perfect for a solo or small group trip to Tennyson street when you want excellent food that's a bit lighter.